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Letter from Ontario

Are U.S. opponents of Windsor bridge trying to influence election? Add to ...

Officially, it's an attack ad by the Canadian Transit Company against a " $2.2-billion road to nowhere."

But Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan wants to find out if the political message against a new bridge between Windsor and Detroit isn't really funded out of the United States.

"They are trying to influence an election," Mr. Duncan said of the ad that takes a direct shot at the McGuinty government fewer than three months before the next province-wide ballot.

Mr. Duncan said the owners of the existing Ambassador Bridge are trying to prevent the construction of a rival crossing over the Detroit River, and that he's investigating to make sure the ads don't violate Ontario's election laws.

"I don't think Canadian will be intimidated by these kinds of scare tactics. This is all about the Bridge company, in my view, trying to maintain a monopoly," he said.

The Windsor-area MPP said he hopes the Ontario Progressive Conservatives and NDP will not be swayed by the campaign. He said he expects the advertisement was likely officially paid by a Canadian entity, in compliance with provincial laws, but that he has no doubt who is really behind the message.

"This is American money," he said. "I will fight them."

Officials at Ambassador Bridge could not be reached for comment. The number listed for the Canadian Transit Company was forwarded to a telephone in Michigan on Tuesday.

The latest ad is part of a long-standing campaign by the owners of the Ambassador Bridge to stop the Michigan government from approving any funding for a new crossing. By attacking the McGuinty government, the Canadian Transit Company is hoping to weaken support for the crossing in Canada.

"Call Dalton McGuinty. Tell him to spend our $2.2-billion on things we really need," said the ad, which includes a phone number for the Ontario Premier.

The thousands of trucks that cross the Ambassador Bridge each day carry about 25 per cent of the annual merchandise trade between Canada and the United States. Canada has been pushing to build an additional crossing for more than seven years to ease bottlenecks in cross-border traffic and meet future demand. It's offered to pay Michigan's $550-million share of the project, to be repaid from toll revenue.

The operators of the privately owned Ambassador Bridge, however, have waged a public campaign against the plan in recent months, using TV ads to raise questions in the minds of Michigan voters about the rationale for a government-backed second crossing.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder had committed to getting legislative approval for the new bridge by early July, but bills that would pave the way for the state to enter officially into a bridge deal didn't pass before the summer break.

The proprietors of the Ambassador Bridge have made no apologies for the messages in their TV ads. Matthew Moroun, vice-chairman of a family holding company overseeing the bridge, said a new government-backed crossing makes no sense. Annual traffic on the Ambassador Bridge is down more than 40 per cent in the past decade, he said.

He acknowledged his company has spent a "significant amount" to fight the project but said it's necessary to counter what he characterizes as disinformation from politicians bent on building a rival crossing that would steal customers.

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